Imagine a world in which we all had more fun and less stuff. Imagine a world in which baby clothes, power tools, and all kinds of resources were shared, instead of used once and then left to collect dust, or worse, sent to the landfill. Imagine if we all fixed broken lamps, instead of buying new ones. Imagine if every town had a community garden whose fruits and veggies were free for all to take. Imagine if every town was full of community bee-keepers, skill-lenders, time-bankers.
Imagine if we were all conscious consumers.
That’s the world Anna Awimbo wants to live in. With 20 years of work experience identifying and developing effective alternative systems to address poverty, unemployment, and climate change, she’s steeped in the sharing culture mentality. In fact, in January of this year, she and a few friends and colleagues took a leap and founded a time bank in Silver Springs, Maryland – with no outside money. Already, the bank has close to 100 members. Check out Awimbo’s social media profile pic; it was taken by a photographer who happened to offer services via the time bank. Awimbo, who telecommutes, often doesn’t need the use of the car that sits in her family’s driveway; she offers rides to the airport or to run errands around town. And this summer, Awimbo’s 11-year-old, craft-oriented daughter “bought” an hour-long sewing-machine lesson with another time bank member, and was off and running. “It was a great way for her to use her summer,” says Awimbo. No camp signups needed. It was icing on the cake that Awimbo’s daughter learned a lot about volunteer work and local outreach in the process.
[Peace.Love.Swap & Play Community Center: Grass Valley, CA]
Awimbo is also the director of the Collaborative Communities Program at The Center for a New American Dream, an organization that does amazing work to help people and communities shift towards sustainable consumption habits. Since 2013, New Dream has teamed up annually with ioby to select and support a cohort of New Dream community projects, via their Get2Gether Neighborhood Challenge; this year’s five winners are an awesome bunch, and they’re well into their fundraising. Awimbo is thrilled about each and every one of them. “I’m always telling people that this is the most exciting piece of the work that I do,” she says “I’m drawn to ordinary folks doing extraordinary things.”
We think you’ll love this year’s winners as much as she does. Some quick teasers for you:
CVille Repair café, Charlottesville, VA
This one is as simple as it gets: a group of handy volunteers meet to hang out, build community, and fix whatever broken lamps, phones, thingamajigs and whatchamacallits their neighbors bring in that day. “The antidote to planned obsolescence,” they call it. It’s an idea that was born three years ago, in Amsterdam, and is taking hold in the States.
This repair café in particular is, as Awimbo points out, “a great example of how one project can grow and lead into another.” It sprang out of a Charlottesville time bank started two years ago. “It’s an offshoot of the time bank,” explains Awimbo. “They’re basically diversifying, and in the process, they’re able to market the work that they do and reach new people.” Super low-budge, super high-impact. Not to mention super fun.
One-BEEing, Hartford, CT
Two problems. One: Connecticut lost 40% of its bee hives last year. Two: lots of youth in Hartford need more to do during the summer months! Enter One-BEEing, a project that’s making beekeepers and sustainable-businesspeople out of Hartford youth. “He’s just really passionate about working with youth,” Awimbo says of the project leader, Olusanya, who works on a volunteer basis, “and about being a part of any initiative where he lives that will keep them engaged and give them new skills and keep them busy over the summertime.”
Capitol Hill Tool Library, Seattle, WA
Did you know that the average power drill gets between 6 and 13 minutes of use in its entire lifetime? Kind of crazy for every household to have their own, right? “The Capitol Hill Tool Library team are folks who recognize this,” says Awimbo, ”and have jumped in and said ‘well, this is a great way to reduce overconsumption.’” They’re building a community-run tool library, where neighbors can go to check out that power drill for a day, or an ice-cream maker, or a table for 12 when the in-laws are in town.
Permaculture Park, Ithaca, NY
What if your local park was full of strawberries, herbs, and other goodies that were free for the taking? Public parks can be MORE than gorges, say the Ithaca Permaculture Park’s founders. They can be DELICIOUS, too! The project’s long-term goal is to fill the park, already well underway, with a dizzying variety of self-maintaining edible plants. In progress at the moment are five raised beds (to be filled with international veggies), an herb spiral, and interpretive signage designed to teach the public about permaculture, and to let grazers know what they’re tasting.
Peace.Love.Swap & Play Community Center: Grass Valley, CA
A mom herself, Awimbo feels a strong connection with this project, a space where parents can gather, connect, take classes, and swap clothes, books, toys and tools.
“Child-rearing is one of the places where we see the majority of waste,” Awimbo explains, “in terms of toys, clothes, all these seasonal celebrations like Halloween and Christmas and Mother’s Day and all of this. A lot of the members of New Dream start off as young parents and realize that they would like more of a balance in the way that they’re living and that they want to convey this message to their children that sharing is really a great way to go. It’s just a group of moms who decided, hey, wait a minute, we want a more coordinated way of exchanging and reusing the clothes that we have, and then also sharing childcare at zero or low cost, so why don’t we get a room and pull everything together. And they’ve pulled it off. It’s amazing. Anyone can jump in and change their community, if they have the right tools.”
So! Do these projects inspire you? Revved up to start sharing? Got an idea for a project in your town, or on your block? Good news! This year’s Get2Gether winners will, as always, serve as mentors to next year’s winners – so get the ball rolling on your project now, and you may just find yourself working with these seasoned pros in 2016. Never too early to get started. And in the meantime, make like a New Dreamer: buy local, share, and green your community. You’ll make a much bigger splash than you thought you could!